Friday, October 31, 2008

Revelation 13: 1-10

In this continuation of yesterday’s Scripture, the dragon who had waged war against believers now gives his power to a beast. Verse 3 says that the whole world was astonished at the beast and followed the beast, as well as worshipping the dragon.

I wonder why we as humans want to worship something, be it the right or wrong thing. And , we tend to worship as a group; in this case the whole world worships what holds power and authority. Humans follow the crowd. I just read a book that really made me think that I tend to go along with the norms of society, even though the earth is not my permanent home.

Eventually, the beast blasphemed God and made war against the saints. What a reminder that this world is just our temporary home. For me that’s what I am reminded of as I read this sad passage; the earth will go through hard times but remember, it is not our real home. The writer of Revelation reminds us, we will be in the minority, but to patiently endure and to have faith.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Revelation 12: 7-17

Whatever you make of these verses, this much is clear: evil is real. Because evil is real, a fierce battle between good and evil is also very real. And finally: we find ourselves in the midst of it.

Evil is depicted in these verses as a great dragon. In the first verses of chapter 12, the dragon tries to kill a newborn baby—and fails! (many scholars see the Christmas story told from a cosmic perspective, a view I find quite compelling).

Undeterred, the dragon fights on. It pursues the woman who has just given birth; worn out, weak, and weary, she seems unable to fight or even protect herself. And yet…she bests the dragon too!

What’s this? A fierce dragon on the magnitude of Godzilla can’t beat a newborn infant or a woman weakened and worn out by child birth? Could it be the dragon is not as powerful, not as fierce, not as dominant as he first seemed?

The child is safe. The woman is safe. What will it try next?

We don’t have to wait long. The dragon, angrier than ever, now wages war with the “rest of the woman’s children”, who turn out to be the faithful people of God, who turn out to be you and me. This is the war in which we find ourselves, which characterizes so much of our life in this world.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it gets discouraging. Sometimes it looks like evil is so powerful, so prevalent, so pervasive… how will we ever defeat it?

And yet…

Not that I want to give the ending away, but here is the big question: Is there any reason to think the dragon will be any more successful in his campaign against us than it has been with the woman or the child?

The point: Take heart. Trust God. In the fight against the dragon and his forces—a battle that sometimes fiercely waged and extracts a great price—persevere.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Revelation 12:1-6

Today's reading is just six verses. I think this is the shortest reading I have had during my time writing Wednesday devotions. However, these six verses amplify the reality of spiritual warfare to me.

Let me begin by offering my thoughts on the symbolism in these verses. First, who or what is the woman symbolizing? Some say it is the Virgin Mary - which seems obvious on a first reading. However, I am in the camp of another school of thought which describes the woman as the faithful people of God. The twelve stars on her head represent the twelve tribes of Israel - the human Jesus was born in, and out of, Israel.

Second, the red, seven headed, ten horned dragon symbolizes Satan. The dragon's tail knocking one-third of the stars from the sky symbolizes the angles that fell with Satan and became his demons. Remember when Satan was expelled from Heaven he took his followers, one-third of the angles, with him.

Third, the baby symbolizes Jesus Christ who, after his time on earth, was taken to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

Now let's get the message of these verses. When Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, it was not big, global news. Sure three wise men came because they knew Jesus was the Messiah, but that was about it. However, today's reading tells us that this relative non-event on earthly terms had, and has, tremendous spiritual significance. From the time of Jesus' birth, Satan has been trying to destroy him because he knew the ultimate outcome if Jesus succeeded is his defeat. A few examples include, Satan influencing King Herod to attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Satan tempting Jesus with immediate riches and power. Satan doing everything he could to convince Jesus not to be the sacrificial lamb for all the sins of mankind.

None of Satan's tricks worked and Jesus successfully completed his mission as a human being. And as a result, as today's verses tell us, the child was "snatched up to God and to his throne" before he could be devoured by the dragon.

These verses are just the opening act in the story that unfolds through Revelation 14:20. I cannot wait to see how it turns out. It opens great for our side!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Revelation 11:14-19

The book of Revelation is filled with exciting images, fearful predictions of the punishment of those who are not faithful, and ultimately a wonderful picture of what eternal life with God will be like. In this passage, God’s reign is established on earth. It is no longer something that is going to happen sometime way out in the future, it is established now. In verse 15 we read “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” And in verse 19 we read that the temple of God was opened and the Ark of the Covenant seen. This is the same Ark that was in King Solomon’s temple, that the Israelites carried around with them when they went to war. This is the Ark that carried the presence of God on earth. No one dared opened it – you may remember this from the Indiana Jones movie – or terrible things happened.

What’s interesting to me is that we are only finished with the second “woe” – there are still many more “woes” to come for those who are not faithful to God. This isn’t even the half way point and yet the kingdom of God is established in the midst of these woes on earth. I find that to be comforting. I never find it helpful to attempt to analyze Revelation to try to predict the end of time and Jesus’ return. I’m afraid I might find myself standing on a mountaintop somewhere shouting “I’m Ready!”. So I just live in the present. And while I don’t analyze the goings on around the world and I don’t know if anything we are seeing is a “woe” as described in Revelation, I do know that there are a lot of things that are woe-full happening – wars, injustice, people starving, children abused… all horrible, woe-full things. It is a comfort to me to think of the Kingdom of God being established in the midst of that and that the presence of God might be able to be seen. The end of time will happen at some point, now I’m hopeful that we can find the kingdom of God all around us, if we just stay faithful and look for it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Revelation 9:13-21

I don't spend a lot of time on the apocalyptic stories in the Bible. I am much more concerned about what I will do this day to further the kingdom on earth. In fact, my attitude has been more of not worrying about what happens and instead living the life I am meant to live during my brief time on earth.

But, maybe I'm missing a big part of the story. God does not waste a lesson learned. Every action, every story, every seed planted in the Bible has a specific reason for existing, and all of it is meant to make His purpose known to us, or if not known, at least give us direction toward that end. So, how much of Revelation am I meant to understand and how can I use these verses, including today's reading, in my everyday life?

As pointed out by the other devotional writers of this week, repentance is a big part of Revelations. Certainly this book, more than perhaps any other, paints a compelling picture of why we should repent. If we don't or can't repent for repentance sake, then surely we will if we are faced with the demons painted in this book. Every chapter is full of gruesome explanations of horrible things that happen for those who fail to repent. So one of the most important lessons of this Book is to repent.

But the Book of Revelation is also a book of hope. There is no question about what happens to the faithful - they reach their ultimate home with God. Revelation further establishes God's power over everything evil and His absolute ability to protect and shield his believers from those things. He promises that there will be no more darkness for those believers - only the perpetual light of God.

Now that is something worth striving for.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Revelation 9:1-12

As we continue our reading of the book of Revelation today, let me remind you again that this is apocalyptic literature where numbers and symbols and dramatic events all have a larger meaning. You will remember we also said that the rest of the Bible gives us the means to decipher the “code” and understand what John is saying. In addition to these two principles, we also we need to remember the context in which John was writing (more on that in a moment).

Today’s verses are part of the graphic depiction of God’s response to the prayers of his saints that was pictured for us in chapter 8: 1-5. As we have already noted, the trumpet plagues which continue here recall the Exodus plagues. Those plagues were not for the purpose of punishment, but penitence. They were not designed simply to make Pharaoh suffer, but to change his mind.

A locust army also recalls the first two chapters of Joel. Interestingly enough, those chapters sound a call to repentance as well.

When these verses were written, the church was being persecuted by Rome much like their ancestors were persecuted in Egypt. The meaning of these verses, therefore, is clear: God once again calls for the people of the earth to repent.

But when they don’t—when they square off with God, in bold opposition to Him (notice the locusts only attack those who do not bear the seal of God upon their foreheads), the result is terrible (with the word “terror” very much in focus). The day will come where the people of the earth who are hostile to God and his purposes will face the consequences of their actions even as Pharaoh did before them.

What is the message for us?

One is certainly the power and importance of prayer. Are we praying for the world? For the church? For the people around us?

But second, I think, is this graphic picture of a life lived at odds with God and his ways. It is not a pretty picture.

Is God speaking to us about areas of our life where we need to repent? If so, we would do well to listen, to bring our life into line with His life so that we bear the seal of God upon our forehead (an image of life lived in harmony with God’s ways; our thoughts in harmony with His thoughts). It is infinitely preferable to the sting of locusts!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 8:1-13

To me, Revelation is a hard book to fully understand. Let me try to summarize today’s reading.

When the seventh seal on God’s judgment scroll is finally broken, the final time of the Tribulation unfolds. The first four plagues are introduced by angels blowing trumpets. These first four plagues will destroy one third of the earth, sea, rivers, and heavenly bodies.

Okay this sounds pretty bad. Have you ever heard on the news, or on some other media, a reporter describing the effect of a natural disaster – a flood, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake? Often times the report might say the devastation is on “biblical proportions”. Now I have no doubt that these disasters are terrible and create a lot of human suffering, but if these disasters are of biblical proportion, how do you think the media will report the plagues described in today’s reading? I do not think that when these plagues attack our world there will be any doubt that they are of biblical proportions.

When we move into the time of the Great Tribulation, this will signal the transition from the long period of human history into a time of judgment. In today's reading we see the first four plagues devastate nature. This is a warning to mankind to repent of his sins. So when these plagues strike why doesn't mankind repent? I know I would. It has always been a mystery to me how stubborn some can be. Remember the plagues that struck Egypt in the days of Moses? Why did it take ten of them before Pharaoh agreed to let the Hebrews go?

The good news to this story is that the Tribulation will end with salvation and victory for the people of God. Hallelujah!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Revelation 7:9-17

Wow. This is one of the passages in the New Testament that is the foundation of our Christian hope. With so much that seems to continue to go wrong in the world today, the economy, the stock market, people losing jobs, losing their homes, people continuing to die from preventable diseases, it would be easy to forget the One upon whom our hope is founded and what our hope looks like. It’s also easy to think that our hope really lies with our next President who we will be electing in a couple of weeks. But our hope is not founded on John McCain or Barack Obama. Our hope is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and the hope He has promised us not only for the future, but also now in our every day lives.

So, what is our hope? Our hope is that in spite of what is happening in the world around us, we know that we are loved and cherished by God and our evidence is that He sent his Son into the world for us -so that we might be saved. Our hope is that through all the struggles of this world, through all the disappointments, through all the tears, there is unspeakable joy to be found through our relationship with Christ. Our hope is in the knowing that one day we will stand before the throne of God, with all of the faithful all together, without strife, without discord where all tears will be wiped from our eyes and all sorrows dispelled and we will together praise our God. Our challenge is for us to live into that hope today – to know that we can do that in our lives now, and we don’t have to wait until we are gone from this world to stand before God and praise Him. We can do that each day in our homes, and each week in worship at St. Matthews. Join me in praising God for the hope we have found in Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Revelation 7:1-8

There is an old saying about jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. That’s sort of what I feel like here.

We’ve been writing about the book of Acts since July (!). Now the book of Acts is a great book, and I’ve thoroughly it. But it does present something of a challenge when writing about it devotionally. You have to think about the stories and discern the principles behind them and how those principles still apply today. That’s not quite as straight forward as, say, the pastoral advice of Paul, which (for the most part) is relatively simple to relate to today.

All this is to say that as much as I’ve enjoyed the book of Acts, I’ve been ready to do something a little different—ready, if you will, for something a little easier to write about…

Well, this week I got my wish. Or, at least the first half of my wish. We are starting a new book. Revelation!

But as to getting something a little easier to write about… well, I’m not so sure that is the case. Does the Bible get any weirder than this?

Actually, this isn’t that weird. If you understand something about the type of literature this is (yep, I’m talking about that again!) this text is actually pretty straightforward. The book of Revelation (singular, not plural!) is called “apocalyptic” literature; that is, it’s rich in imagery and numbers and grand cosmic events that make a sort of coded language with which to speak about what God is doing. The key to understanding these symbolic references is to have read enough of the Bible to catch the allusions to other passages in Scripture (like the locust plague here that recalls one of the 10 plagues of Egypt) that will unlock the code for us.

Take today’s passage, for instance. It speaks of the 144, 000 who were “sealed”. Are we to infer from that that only 144,00 people will be saved, and not a single person more or a single person less? That when we reach 144,000, a “no vacancy” sign will be posted on the doors of heaven and no one else will be allowed in?

That hardly makes sense, does it?

But if we realize that in keeping with the type of literature we are reading the number 12 is actually symbolic (as opposed to literal), the meaning becomes quite clear.

We’ve seen the number 12 over and over again in the Bible, haven’t we? And it is always associated with God’s ability to carry out his redemptive purposes for mankind. 144,000 is 12 squared, a way of dramatically emphasizing the meaning of this number. 144,000, therefore, refers to God’s perfect ability to save. Nothing will prevent him from accomplishing his purposes, and we can therefore trust him completely.

For the people first reading these words, that was a great comfort. The power of Rome seemed to threaten the power of God as Christians were persecuted and brutally killed. This passage reassured them that God would indeed win the day, and that they could count on Him.

Sometimes I get discouraged about my salvation. Can God really save me? I have so many faults and failings, so many struggles in which I fall short of what I know God asks of me. But the hope of my salvation does not rest in me; it rests in God. Like Christians before me, I take great comfort in that.

And you can too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Acts 28:1-16

Today’s reading takes up the amazing story of the shipwrecked travelers. Paul is being taken to Rome. God had given Paul a message and once again Paul had delivered the message; that not one hair on anyone’s head would be lost. (Acts 27:34). As God promised, the company all arrived safely on the island of Malta (soggy and terrified, but they got there).

When first reading this story it seems like a wild adventure story, and it is; storms, shipwreck, prisoners swimming to shore in the rain after the guards deciding not to kill them to prevent their escape, meeting the natives of the island. It sounds like a big budget adventure movie.

As I consider it, however, also amazing is Paul’s relationship with God. Paul gets bitten by a poisonous snake but God allows him to live. Paul heals the father of the chief official of the island. Paul heals all the rest of the sick people on the island. Paul is filled with the power of God and is used by God as healer and prophet. All these things that are public gifts are the result of Paul’s private relationship with God. I like thinking about this. I wonder what Paul said when he talked to the Lord. From our reading together these months in the book of Acts, we know Paul said “thank you” a lot. We know that Paul said that all the good things in his life, all his accomplishments, were nothing compared to knowing Christ. Paul wanted to be used by God so much that late in life he said his life had been “poured out like a drink offering “ to God. Do we pour out our lives?

In the later afternoon today I sat outside for a minute. I noticed that as birds landed on my porch to get peanuts the late afternoon sun caught their feathers and the birds shown briefly like different colored jewels. To me looking at Paul’s relationship with God is like looking at a jewel.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Acts 27:27-44

Within days of going away to college, I joined with a group of guys I had only just met to steal a very large moose head mounted in the student lounge. That is a simple historical fact. But what is perhaps even more interesting is the story behind it (which I conveniently don’t have the space to tell.)

Similarly, the book of Acts takes historical facts and places them in the context of one of the most compelling stories ever told, replete with engaging drama that keeps us on the edge of our seats, reading eagerly on to see what happens next…

As the story continues in today’s passage, it is dark at night with everyone adrift on the ocean when they realize they are nearing land. The possibility is very real that they will strike rocks and all will be lost. Realizing the immediate danger, the sailors seek to desert the ship, leaving Paul and the prisoners to perish. It doesn’t look good…

Paul, however, is able to persuade the men to stay on board, and to actually encourage them so they are ready to meet the demands of landing the ship in the day ahead. Day breaks and they spy land, not familiar land, but good land, land with the calm waters of a bay and the sure landing of a beach. Things are looking up…

We root for our heroes to make it shore… but no, they hit a hidden reef and the ship catches there. The waves pound the ship, and it begins to break up. Paul is in big trouble now!

It gets worse. The guards, wishing to do their duty and ensure that no prisoners escape, plan to kill them all—Paul included. Is this the end?

No. The centurion intervenes. Once again Paul seems to cheat death. People jump over board and begin swimming to shore. Those who can’t swim grab planks splintered off from the sinking ship…

And today, at least, everybody lives! The assurance God gave Paul that all will be well (my paraphrase) for that day, at least, turns out to be well founded. Everybody lives!

We, of course, do not simply see fate at work here. We see the hand of God.

And I, at least, am encouraged. Life takes lots of twists and turns, some good and some seemingly not. Some are expected and some catch us totally unaware. Sometimes it looks like we’ve come to the end only to find a new way ahead.

But in all these things, God is near at hand, accomplishing His plans and purposes which are unable to be thwarted by whatever adversity arises. That, friends, is very good news, rooted in a story that is part of a much larger story that is still going on today. And very much like the story we read here, it too has a happy end!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Acts 27:9-26

Today's reading contains a great message. Sometimes I have a difficult time to grasp and understand the message in the reading. In today's reading the message seems crystal clear to me. In fact I see two messages.

Message one is about life on this earth. Life, your life, my life, is like the ocean in today's reading. The weather of our ocean may seem fine, almost perfect, thus we shove off and proceed with life. We never know what storms we may encounter or face, however, one thing we all know is that storms are out there. Faith in God is essential to weathering some storms. Through God we get courage and hope. Hopefully, the vast majority of storms we face are not life threatening like the one in today's reading, but even if they are God can bring us through. I am inspired by the actions of Paul when, after this storm has been raging for days, he tells the sailors that God, whom he serves, will stand by him. Please remember that God can turn disaster into deliverance and hopelessness to hope. It is in these storms that our faith is sometimes tested but always grows.

The second message pertains to the way we live our lives and the importance we place in trusting God. During the voyage in today's reading, after the storm hit, the people in the ship did not know exactly where they were as they had not seen the stars or sun for several days. In that time in history, navigation was not done with a compass but by the stars and sun. Thus, when the sailors had not seen either, they were lost. This feeling of being lost is the condition we all feel when we lessen our faith in God. It is also a feeling people who do not have a strong faith, or any faith, experience. When this happens to us or to others it is as if we are walking in darkness without any light. This is a terrible feeling. Paul sets a great example for us by not losing hope and faith in God. In the face of the storms you face, trust in the promises of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Acts 26:4 - 27:8

It’s so interesting to me that Paul’s persistence in the spread of the gospel earned him the reputation of being insane! Festus seemed to actually think Paul had gone mad. While that certainly would explain how a Pharisee who was known for killing and persecuting Christians had actually converted to Christianity as Paul did Paul was just as certain that he was in his right mind. He was able, in the midst of this confrontation to speak calmly and clearly about his faith in Christ, continuing to attempt to persuade Festus and King Agrippa. What is also astounding is that Agrippa finds no fault in Paul, no reason he should be punished. While King Agrippa was not converted, he at least had something profound to think about.
How do we react when we are accused of being an extremist for the Gospel? Or have we ever been accused? If not, we are probably doing something wrong. People should know by our words and deeds that we are faithful followers of Christ. When people accuse us of being too Christian, are we calm and rational? Do we defend ourselves? Do we defend our faith? How do we react?
The more Festus accused, the more Paul seemed to calm down and seem in his right mind, ultimately making Festus out to be the one insane. Paul was very clear, very lucid. How do we handle confrontations? Do we seem to be insane? Or do the very questions make us realize that others are listening so that we can speak so we can be heard.
I’ve never been arrested for the sake of the Gospel. Frankly, I don’t want to be. I’m thankful that we live in a country where we can believe what we believe. But I also hope that our actions always speak louder than our words and we are able to draw all people to Christ no matter what the circumstance. And, If accused of insanity, be able to handle the situation as Paul did, with calm lucidity in order to show that we are in our right minds so that we give people something to think about and some One to believe in.

Monday, October 13, 2008

James 1:1-15

Ahhh, the book of James! Now here is a book that is practical and easy to understand. The hard part is to put in practice the clear truths it teaches.

James is a book that has often been as promoting “works" instead of “faith”. But in these opening verses James gives us the context in which we are to read the rest of the book, and that context is the importance of faith.

We are encouraged to have faith in God’s ability to work even in the midst of our most difficult times; to have faith that God really will give us the wisdom we need for living through these times; to have faith that any sacrifices we make in this life are well worth the cost; and to have faith that it is better to resist temptation than give into it.

In each of these situations, our faith is the vehicle by which we are able to continue to confidently hope for the best, even when what life actually brings us is trials and tribulations. It’s what keeps us connected to God so that we are willing to pay the price necessary to live the kind of Christian life described in the verses to come. And let us make no mistake: there is a price to be paid in living the kind of life that follows in Jesus’ footsteps.

Take verse 12-15 for instance. Desire is, of course, desirable. But sometimes our desires are inappropriate, destructive, or hurtful. To say “no” to our desires is to say no to what we want, and that is painful. Is it really worth it?Faith answers, “Yes, it is.”

For example, I often desire to use my credit card. The problem is, my credit card makes spending too easy. I buy things I don’t really need, and then come to the end of the month and the bill takes more of my income than it should. So at least until the end of the year (we started in October), my wife and I have decided to say “no” to our credit cards for everything but gas (yes, we do realize that this includes what are typically known as the “shopping days” before Christmas).

Saying “no” to our credit cards is sometimes painful. There are things I want, like books or fishing tackle or maybe some additional bulbs for a fall planting in the garden. But although saying “no” in the moment is painful, by faith we believe in the long run it will bring far greater rewards than a moment’s simple passing pleasure .

James tells us it is that way with all our “sinful” desires. It may well mean choosing pain instead of pleasure now. But faith answers resolutely, “It will be worth it in the end”.

Acts 26:1-23

If you look at the life of Jesus, you will see certain patterns. For instance, he regularly withdraws from the crowds to a deserted place and spends time alone with God. He attends synagogue every week. He reads Scripture and prays. All these are patterns to be emulated by anyone who would follow Jesus.

In the book of Acts, and more specifically in the life of Paul, there are also patterns. Have you noticed them? This is not, for instance, the first time Paul has told his story. Look, for instance, back at Acts 21:37 to 22:16. Notice how similar these passages are?

It was part of the pattern of Paul’s life to tell the story of his conversion whenever he had the opportunity to do so. And I’d suggest that, too, is a pattern of we should emulate.

Have you ever thought about your story? How did you come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? It doesn’t always have to be a dramatic conversion experience. Maybe your relationship with Jesus has grown out of faithfully being in church week in and week out as long as you remember. That’s a great story. It needs to be told.

I came to intentionally follow Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior on May 18, 1973. It was that night I knelt and asked Jesus to come into my heart, forgive me my sin, and lead me from there all the days of my life. It is a prayer that has made all the difference in my life.

How often do you tell your story? Can you think of opportunities where you might have the chance to do so?

Bearing witness to others about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is an essential part of being a Christian. Before we get hung up on other things, such as sexuality which is all the rage today, I’d suggest we tend to getting this most fundamental, most basic piece of our own faith right.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Acts 25:13-27

What are we to make of Festus, the procurator of Judea who has inherited this problem not of his own doing--what to do with Paul? He has just learned that Paul is in fact a Roman citizen, and therefore has the right to take his case to Caesar Nero. But before he can put this process into effect, what looks like an opportunity for further consultation and clarification comes to him.

King Agrippa was heir to the line of Herods who were nominally Jews but by no means friends to the biblical faith. Agrippa's father had been a sidebar participant in the trial of Jesus, consulted by that earlier Roman governor, Pilate. And so Agrippa's seaside vacation at Caesarea is interrupted by the puzzling case that Festus sets before him.

While Festus is painstakingly clear about every manner of legal proceedings, he really doesn't understand what Paul is about. Festus has no high regard for Judaism--his reference to points of "religion" could as easily be translated "superstition"--but he manages to get one thing, amazingly, right on target. The point he grasped was Paul's assertion that Jesus, the man who had died, was now alive.

Perhaps it was this point that sparked Agrippa's interest, for he decided, without any binding obligation, to hear directly from Paul. And so he made the next day one of those grandiose occasions of pomp and splendor for which the Herods are infamous. One can easily imagine the sight of soldiers in dress uniforms marching in, and hear the trumpets sounding. And Festus, careful, cautious, do-the-right-thing governor, is playing his part in a scene that is much bigger than he or any of the others present, regardless of their finery and their titles, could possibly imagine.

For Paul is about to tell his story.

† µ£ß

Friday, October 10, 2008

Acts 24:24-25:12

Have you ever read a book and known the ending, but all the while you are wondering how the story will ever get to that ending? That’s how it is for me with the story of Paul and how he gets to Rome. Although Paul acts as if his last years in the Roman occupied territories around Israel were well orchestrated, he, of course, had no idea how he would get to Rome alive. He just knew he would and he looked for those opportunities to make it happen.

In other words, he had total trust in God. Can you imagine having that kind of faith? Every time I think I have a lot of faith in God’s plan for me, I find myself trying to steer the ship. It’s all about control with me. I want to control my life. In fact, I try to take control automatically without even thinking about it. It is like driving the same route to and from work every day. It’s so automatic, that sometimes I wonder how I got to work. The car must have auto-pilot. But then, one day, there is construction along the route and I have to detour. All of a sudden, I’m fully alert. And I’m none too happy. I don’t like change from my routine. It’s a reminder that I’m not in control.

Imagine how peaceful life would be if we allowed God to have total control of our lives. That is the peace that Paul felt, even though he knew he would die a martyr’s death. It’s the “peace that passes all understanding”. Definitionally, we can’t comprehend that kind of peace even though we continually try to shove it into a box and control it just for the sake of having control.

Now imagine if someone put a gun to your head and told you that in order to live, you had to give up control of your life to God. Would you? Could you?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Acts 24:1-23

On my book shelves are several different types of books. There are books of poetry, novels, Bible commentaries, nonfiction books on any number of subjects, picture books, and so on. Each of these types of books are written for a different purpose, and so I read them in a different way with different expectations from them.

As you no doubt know, the Bible also contains many different types or genres of literature. It too includes poetry, short stories (often called “parables”), law books, letters, songs, and so on. When studying the Bible, therefore, it is important to recognize the type of literature we are reading, and the literary form the biblical author is using to get the message across.

Applying this to the book of Acts, we find that we are reading historical narrative. The primary purpose of historical narrative is not to teach (that’s called didactic, such as can be found in the teachings of Jesus or the letters of Paul), but to accurately recount the events that began spreading the good news of what God has done in Christ throughout the world. It’s written to tell us what happened in the early days of the church.

The big question is, of course, “What does any of this have to do with us?” And the way we answer that question is to note both how God and His faithful followers have acted in history. This gives us an idea of how we might expect God to act today—and how He might expect us to act as well. In other words, we draw principles from the stories which we can then apply to our lives.

For instance, God doesn’t rescue Paul from hardship. Though Felix (a fellow we also read about in such Roman history as the writings of Tacitus, by the way) grants Paul a little leniency, he does not release him. Apparently God is better able to accomplish His (God’s) purposes this way. Paul is able to share the Gospel with some of the most powerful people in the world of his day, Roman Governors.

I think it is safe to say that we can conclude that God will not always deliver us from hardship in our lives either. He will not always bring us to safe places, as much as we might wish this was so. Things will not always turn out as we’d wish.But that does not mean that God is not with us, or that He is not actively at work in our lives. Far from it, it may well mean that it is precisely situations like these that God’s plan is being accomplished through us.

When we realize that, then like Paul, we are in the position to make the most of whatever opportunities God choose to bring our way.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Acts 23:23-35

I do not know about you but I had a tough time trying to understand the message in today's reading. I read it a couple of times before I felt in a position to write a devotion.

As background to today's reading, Paul must get out of town as a mob was forming and threatening to kill him. There were many ways God could have chosen to protect Paul, but He chose moving Paul to Caesarea. Now this is fine and this would remove Paul from the harm the mob was threatening, but what amazes me is the method God used to get Paul out of harm's way.

God chose to use the Roman army to deliver Paul from his enemies. Who would have thought that the Roman army, over 400 soldiers, would escort Paul to safety? This again demonstrates that God's ways are not limited by human constraints. The lesson here, I think, is that we should not put limits on God by asking Him for our preconceived idea of what help looks like. We should ask God for help and let Him determine the best course of action. When God intervenes, anything can happen. Many times, I find, that God's intervention is so much better than I could ever have anticipated. If I limit God to my human concept of what is possible I would remove from Him the ability to provide the help I so much desire.

Keep the faith and remember that God can do anything - not just what we consider possible. Ask God to help you, but let God determine how to provide that help.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Acts 23: 12-24

In today’s reading, Paul is in prison and there is a planned ambush to kill him. The Jewish people have determined that Paul should die for his teachings. Let’s also remember, that Paul received prophecies a few chapters ago that God wants Paul in Rome. So Paul knows he is supposed to go to Rome. At this point, Paul has a choice – he can stay silent when he hears from his nephew there is a plot to kill him and just trust that somehow God will get him to Rome as planned, or he can do something to protect himself. Paul chooses the latter.

For me, this is encouraging. We don’t have to go silently to the slaughter. When there is a wrong being committed against us, we can act, even within the worldly structure to do something to protect ourselves. So often when bad things happen to us, we don’t act. Either because we don’t know what to do or we think somehow God will protect us without our doing anything. Sometimes God does. But God most often uses other people to do his Will. That being the case, sometimes we need to stand up, like Paul did, and defend ourselves. Weather we are being treated unfairly at work, if others have demands on us that just aren’t realistic or someone is falsely accusing us in some way. Sometimes the best way to handle it is to say something to someone who can help and not be like a sheep being silently led to the slaughter with the silent prayer of “Thy will be done.” Sometimes if we want God’s will to be done, we have to do something too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Acts 22:30-23:11

I don’t know about you, but when I read about Paul speaking so boldly about the Lord, he seems to be so brave, so courageous, so confident—so free of the fears and concerns and anxieties that keep so many of us from freely bearing witness to Jesus and all he has done for us. He almost seems like a different kind of person than I am, and maybe than you feel like you are too.

That’s why the last line of today’s reading is so interesting to me: That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’

Now why would the Lord need to take such a dramatic step as to stand near Paul? And why would he have to tell him to “keep his courage”? Paul must have needed the encouragement.

Hmmm…

Maybe Paul wasn’t so different from you and from me. Maybe he was scared too. Maybe the conflict and the violence and the personal attacks were taking its toll and wearing him down. Maybe this whole bearing bold witness thing wasn’t so easy for Paul, either. “Keep your courage!” God says, and notice the exclamation point. Was he in danger of loosing it?

Is God standing near to you and me saying, “Keep your courage! You must bear witness for me in … (and here, you can fill in the blank. Sterling? At work? At home? At school? On a business trip? )”?

Maybe, just maybe, that’s the real secret to being a bold witness for Christ: knowing that God is near, sensing his encouragement , and in these things finding the courage we need to take a daring step out in faith.

God is near. Keep your courage. To whom will you witness today?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Acts 21:37-22:16

Have you ever know someone who really changed? In particular, someone whose values have really changed? In these verses Paul is describing his conversion and the resulting changes in his life. He had been an enemy of Christians, binding them and putting them in prison. Not long after his conversion he was preaching about Jesus being the Son of God and as a result, his own life was in danger. He was being persecuted, just as he used to persecute Christians.

For the rest of his life Paul would recount how he saw Jesus. We all can know God but Paul was chosen by God in a special way, to know Him and to suffer for Him. Ananias was a prophet, called by God in a vision to go to Paul right after Paul’s conversion. (at first Ananias wasn’t happy about this call. In Acts 9: 13 Ananias protests to God that Paul was a violent man who was after Christians, and God replies something like, you heard me the first time. Go. So, Ananias went). Ananias told Paul that God had chosen Paul to know God’s will, to see Christ and to hear the voice of Christ and then to tell the world what he had seen and heard.

As I think about the life of Paul, he did indeed do that; he spent his life telling the world about the Lord. He was really a changed man.

Reading about Paul’s conversion made me reflect on my own conversion. If you think about your own path to Christ, you may not remember bright lights or sudden blindness , as Paul experienced. Yet the fact that God reached down to us is a marvel. In my own case, I remember a summer morning when I was about six. I was sitting with my father, watching him shave. Something made me ask him if being a Christian was hereditary, something I got from my mother and him. No, he replied, you have to decide on your own to follow Christ. Now I realize that the marvel is, what made me ask that question? What made me think about what I needed to do to follow Christ? Of course it was God, reaching down in to my life, like He reached into yours and into Paul’s.

Paul was so amazed that the rest of his life became a mission. In that great passage in Philippians 3 he says, after I met Christ NOTHING ELSE mattered . All the good things in my life were like rubbish compared to knowing Christ. I’m telling you, all that matters to me now is knowing Christ.

I wonder what my life would look like if nothing else mattered but loving and knowing Christ. May we live lives that say, nothing else matters.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Acts 21:27-36

I wonder what made the people in today’s reading so very angry? Sure, on one level it was what Paul was teaching about Jesus. But what was it about his teaching that was so upsetting?
My guess is that they felt threatened by it. They saw Paul as teaching “against our people and our law and this place.” They were afraid that if people practiced the things Paul was teaching about, their way of life, the things they valued, their very existence as a people would come to an end.

And it seems to me that there is a fair amount of material taught in the Bible that might be equally threatening to us. What if we lived like Jesus, or Paul, lived? I mean really lived like they did, with the same kind of passion for God and for people? With the same kind of selflessness and material detachment? With the same kind of willingness to suffer for what they believed was right (which is a very different thing, of course, than causing others to suffer for what we believe is right!) With the same kind of inclusiveness for the poor (do we even know anyone who is really poor?) and the socially excluded (the “wrong kind of people”)?

My guess is that would be pretty threatening to us as well. We don’t riot or get angry, though. We just ignore it.

But I wonder… is that really any better?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Acts 21:15-26

In today’s reading we see that some Jews believe Paul is telling people, both Gentiles and Jews, that they do not have to follow the laws given to the people by Moses any longer. They only need to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. To counter this perception, Paul participates in an ancient Jewish ritual of purification.

Now, in my opinion, to participate in this ritual would have been distasteful to Paul. For him the relevancy of things like this were long gone. However, to avoid an unneeded and petty conflict with the Jews he went ahead and did it. To me one sign of a truly great person is when that person can subordinate his / her own wishes and desires for the sake of the Church. There is a time when compromise is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

Sometimes a church bickers over disagreements about minor issues or traditions. Like Paul, we should all remain firm on Christian fundamentals but flexible on non-essentials. Of course no one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to exercise the gift of mutual submission for the sake of unity and for the sake of the Gospel.